Istanbul Network 5th International Conference

Democratic Transitions in the Muslim World

Istanbul Network for Liberty held its fifth annual conference in collaboration with International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia on the 27th and 28th of November 2017. A special thanks to CIPE, Atlas Network and IDEAS for their sponsorship of the conference.

This conference on “Democratic Transitions in the Muslim World” saw a total of approximately 130 participants from all over the world such as Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Turkey, United States, Tehran, Bosnia and Herzegovina, United Kingdom, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and South Africa. A total of 23 papers exploring issues on Islam and democracy was presented by speakers from different countries.

Ali Salman, CEO of Istanbul Network and Professor Dr. Mohammad Hashim Kamali, CEO of International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies started of the first day with their welcome remarks and an overview of the conference. YAM Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin ibni Tuanku Muhriz gave his opening address on “Malaysia: Roots of a Democratic Society” which was both interesting and eye-opening. Dr. Muhammad Khalid Masud, Former Director General at Islamic Research Institute and former Chairman of Islamic Ideology (Pakistan) gave a keynote address on “Religion and State are Twin Brothers: Classical Muslim Political Theory”.

The first session was chaired by Abdulwahab Alkebsi, Deputy Director of CIPE (Washington DC) on the history of democratic transitions. His panel included Dr. Syed Farid al-Atas from the University of Singapore who presented on “Democratic Transitions in the Muslim World: Prerequisites and Obstacles”, Dr. Alim Yilmaz from the Middle East Technical University (Turkey) discussing his paper on “Deconstructing a Dilemma: Democracy versus Islam” and Dr. Hasan Yucel Basdemir, a Board Member from the Quarterly Liberal Thought (Turkey) who gave a presentation on his paper “Political Attitudes of Islamism: A Brief Historical Perspective within Democratization”.

Ozlem Caglar Yilmaz, the General Coordinator at the Association for Liberal Thinking (Turkey) chaired the second session on the narrative on Islam and democracy in which Dr. Kemal Bayram, an associate professor from the Marmara University (Turkey) discussed his topic on “Re-reading the Relation Between Islam and Democracy in a Critical Way: The Hermeneutical Alternative”. He was joined by Dr. Seyed Emamian of the Sharif University of Technology (Tehran) whom discussed “The Rise and Fall of the Iranian Reformists”. Mohamad Machine Chan, co-founder of Bourgeois (Iran) joined this panel to discuss related issues in his home country, Iran while arguing that an oil-rich regime can be prone to reforms when oil prices crash.

The third session was on the socio-economic currents behind transitions which was chaired by Dina Zaman, the Executive Director of IMAN Research (Malaysia). Elma Berisha of the Asian Institute of Finance (Malaysia) discussed her paper on “Delivering on Promises to the Muslim Middle Class: Who’s Delivering to Whom”. She was joined by Dr. Edo Omercevic, the Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise (Bosnia and Herzegovina) who talked on the socio-economic stratification of Muslim communities in the South-Eastern Europe.

Kyai Haji Yahya Cholil Staquf, the General Secretary of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Supreme Council (Indonesia) started off the second day by emphasizing the need to contextualize Islamic teachings and the need for Muslims to understand and tolerate the different opinions from the different school of thoughts and beliefs in his keynote address.  It was then followed by the first session on Islamic political parties which was chaired by Ozlem Caglar Yilmaz. Dr Husnul Amin, the Executive Director at the Iqbal International Institute for Research and Dialogue (IRD) (Pakistan) discussed on the “Islamic Political Parties through the Lens of their Electoral Manifestoes in Pakistan”.  Wan Saiful Wan Jan, a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) (Singapore), discussed his paper on “Evolution of Islamism in Malaysian Politics: The Splintering of the Islamic Party of Malaysia and the Spread of Progressive Ideas”. The session ended with a presentation on “Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazal) Pakistan: From Political Conservatism to Modernity: A Case Study from 2002 – 2017” by Fida Ur Rahman of the Qurtuba University of Science and IT (Pakistan).

The second session was also on Islamic political parties which was chaired by Ozlem Caglar Yilmaz. Dr. Deina Abdelkader was the first speaker and gave a presentation on her paper “Democratic Transitions: Are There Recipes for Success?”. This was followed by a discussion on “AK Party’s Democratization Perspectives: Plus and Minuses” by Dr. Abdurrahman Babacan of Istanbul Medipol University (Turkey). Another speaker in this panel was Dr. Nehad Khanfar of Middlesex University (London) who presented on “A Critical Assessment of Hamas’ ‘Democratic Transformation’ and its Impact on Palestinian Politics”.

Abdulwahab Alkebsi chaired the third session on religious freedom, radicalization, and democratic fundamentals whereby four speakers were present to give their presentation. Muhammed Iksan of Pramadina University (Indonesia) presented on “Jakarta Local Election 2017: Revival of Radical Islamism and Islamist Agenda?”, Dr. Imdad Hussain from Forman Christian College University (Pakistan) gave a presentation on “Islam and Peace: Constructing Alternative Narrative in Pakistan”, Dr. M. Shahadat Hossain of Bagladesh Islami University (Bangladesh) presented on “Criminalization of Diverse Opinion in Developing Countries through Judicial Framework: Bangladesh Perspective”, and finally, a presentation by Professor Dr. Wahahuddin Ra’ees from the Department of Political Science at International Islamic University (Malaysia) on “Democratisation of Post-Taliban Afghanistan: Prospects and Challenges”.

The final session was on the consequences of political Islam which was chaired by Dr. Mohamed Azam Mohamed Adil, the Deputy CEO of IAIS (Malaysia). His panel consisted of Dr. Rafiullah Azmi from Jamia Milia Islamia (India) who spoke on the “Rise of the Islamists and Democratisation of the Arab World in the Post-Arab Spring: Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt from Politics to Prison”, Waqas Ahmad from the International Islamic University (Pakistan) who gave a presentation on “Evolving Interplay of Islam and Politics from Islamist to Islamic Democrats” and a discussion on “From Political Islam to Democrat Muslim: A Case Study of Rashid Ghannouchi’s Influence on ABIM, IKRAM, AMANAH and DAP” by Dr. Maszlee Malik from the International Islamic University (Malaysia).

The conference ended with a vote of thanks from Wan Saiful Wan Jan, Chairman of Istanbul Network, Ali Salman, CEO of Istanbul Network and Dr. Mohamed Azam Mohamed Adil, Deputy CEO of IAIS.

Throughout both days, Q&A sessions were held after each session to encourage a two-way interaction between speakers and participants. Rich and dynamic discussions too took place during tea break and lunch sessions. The conference provided a platform for further insight and discussion surrounding the compatibility between Islam and democracy as well as the dynamics between Islam and politics which have significantly affected the political outlook of Muslim majority nations.

Isabel Loke